Why Art Has No Gender
Throughout history, women have had an indelible impact on society, culture, and industry. How do we find and capture new opportunities to get ahead? The answer is simple: By having a distinct point of view and by embracing the things that make us unique. We experienced this firsthand in the FQ Lounge @ Art Basel Miami, where we joined together with SAP, UN Global Compact, and The Feminist Institute to celebrate women in art, advance equality, and highlight female leaders who are challenging the status quo by being themselves.
Art is a powerful medium that motivates us to affect meaningful change; it gives us the power to root the female experience down in culture and history and inspires us to see the world in new ways that unlock possibilities for women across the board. That’s why raising the visibility of women in art is so important.
While we’ve made progress towards gender equality in the art world, there’s still much more work that needs to be done. It’s estimated that 51% of visual artists in the United States are women. Yet, a recent survey of 18 prominent art museums in the United States found that, out of 10,000 artists featured, 87% are male and 85% are white. The good news? The value of women’s art is on the rise.
Here’s more on how women are gaining a foothold in the art market and how we can continue to amplify their voices.
The Value of Women’s Art is on the Rise
Women’s art has often been overlooked and undervalued but now there’s one area in which female artists are outperforming their male counterparts: repeat auction sales of art. A recent report from Art Agency Partners found that Sotheby’s Mei Moses’s Art-Female index has increased by 72.9% between 2012 and 2018. The men’s index rose by just 8.3% within that same time frame. What does this mean? It means that the monetary value of women’s art has skyrocketed over the past six years. As the firm states in the report, “a work by a female artist bought in 2012 would, on average, be worth 72.9% more if sold in 2018.” This dramatic jump is even more groundbreaking in contrast to the past 50 years in which the resale markets for both male and female artists performed roughly in parallel.
The Demand for Women’s Art is Soaring
It looks like there are a few factors driving the market towards equal representation for women. With the work of well-known male artists (e.g., Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning) becoming scarcer, dealers and auction houses are directing the attention of buyers to artists who have been ignored. Take Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler, for example.
The repositioning of female artists into new categories as they move between auction houses is also helping women in the past and present gain visibility. Just look at Georgia O’Keeffe who holds the auction record for the most expensive work by a female artist. Her art has performed even better since switching from the ‘American’ category into the ‘impressionist.’
With women accounting for a mere 8% of global auction sales in 2018, the art auction market is still male-dominated. However, this recent boom in the value of art by women could indicate a promising shift for us within the next decade. In other words, it’s only just begun.
In the Lounge, artists like Michele Pred and Kristin Simmons shared how they’re making waves. Michele is the creator of Power of the Purse, a body of work consisting of individually-sourced vintage purses, each with a politically-charged word or phrase in bright text. Her choice to juxtapose strong language with purses, the ultimate symbol of women’s economic power, was deliberate. The purses are intended to be carried and to serve as small-scale political billboards.
“I do things on a large scale, whether it’s my feminist art parades or carrying around a purse as a statement. But, we all can do something,” said Michele, “You can send out a message to people all over the place. That’s what I think is my superpower: being an activist.”
Kristin Simmons, a Neo-Pop artist based in New York, displayed eight pieces of art in the Lounge, including “Beauty is Life’s EZ Pass,” “American Excess,” “Women of Change,” “and “The .01%” Stock.” She told the crowd, “Most people, even highly educated people, can’t name five female visual artists. If there’s one thing I’d want people to do, it’d say to learn about women in the visual arts, talk about them, represent their names and, and tell their stories.”
We Need to Close the Gender Gap in Museums
In order to level the playing field for women in art, we need to close the gender gap for women working in museums across every level. “We find that a lot of women major in art history and go into art museums, but very few, if any at all, rise to top positions of leadership or directorship in these major institutions,” said FQ Ambassador Joan Hornig.
As numbers from the 2017 National Museum Salary Survey from the AAM confirm, women hold two-thirds of the full-time jobs in the industry but paid 82 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. In chief curator positions, the median salary for men was $71,050 compared to $55,550 for women. The field has traditionally been led by white men but, with more women in power and diverse appointments, museum leaders say the issue of pay equity has a chance to be resolved. Adding female curators to the equation can help us upgrade to a more inclusive vision of the world.
“When big gatherings happen, we need to make sure that purpose has the biggest voice so we can educate people,” said Ann Rosenberg, Senior VP & Global Head of SAP Next-Gen, in the Lounge. “We all have a responsibility that we need to take. That’s my message to the art world— and I think women can really lead this charge in an incredible way.”
With our partners, we’re committed to building an inspiring and lasting visual record of global feminist leadership. That’s why we hosted the Feminist Portfolio in the FQ Lounge @ Art Basel this year. The Feminist Portfolio is a landmark portfolio project that depicts historic feminist figures and leaders who are representative of some of the world’s greatest decision-making power and influence today. Our shared goal? To elevate the feminist underpinnings of the visionary leadership that are transforming the world.
Inside the FQ Lounge @ Art Basel, other notable guests of honor included female artists such as Shantell Martin, Judith Bernstein, Natalie Frank, Pippy Houldsworth, Mary Sabbatino, Catherine Morris, and Faith Ringgold. These women shared what art means to them. Let’s continue to amplify their voices— and the voices of women everywhere.
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